Panthers want Christian McCaffrey to get 25-30 touches a game

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera said on Wednesday it would be "ideal'' if second-year running back Christian McCaffrey had 25 to 30 touches a game this season, more than doubling what he had as a rookie.

McCaffrey averaged 7.3 carries a game and five receptions a game a year ago as the eighth pick of the draft.

Jonathan Stewart took a lot of touches from McCaffrey, averaging 13.2 carries a game in 2017. He was released during the offseason for salary-cap reasons, moving McCaffrey into the No. 1 role despite the addition of free agent C.J. Anderson, who averaged 15.3 carries a game a year ago for Denver.

"I could see Christian, especially if he continues to develop the way we think he can, being a very integral part of what we want to do,'' Rivera said after players reported to training camp at Wofford College.

"I don't want to get to the point where everything starts through him, because it'll always be through the quarterback [Cam Newton]. But he can be one of those guys that hopefully gets the ball 25 to 30 times a game. That would be ideal.''

That would be rare for a back to make such a jump from his first to second season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, only a handful of backs have reached 25 touches per game in the second season period since 2001 and the jump was not close to what McCaffrey would have to make.

Among the notables, LaDainian Tomlinson went from 24.9 to 28.2 touches in 2001-02. Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott went from 23.6 to 26.8 touches in 2016-17.

The biggest jump was New Orleans' Deuce McAllister, who played behind workhorse Ricky Williams during his rookie year of 2001. McAllister went from 1.9 touches as a rookie to 24.8 in his second season.

Rivera is confident McCaffrey can make the jump because he believes the 5-foot-11 back can run between the tackles as he did at Stanford, where he touched the ball offensively 27.2 times a game in 2015 and 26.4 in 2016.

He told ESPN during offseason workouts McCaffrey could top 200 carries this season after having only 117 a year ago.

Much of how McCaffrey is used depends on new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who has a history of giving his lead back a lot of touches.

Turner's lead back had at least 200 carries in seven of his eight full seasons as an offensive coordinator with Dallas, San Diego, San Francisco, Cleveland and Minnesota. Five times the lead back topped 300 carries. As a head coach, Turner's lead back topped 200 carries 10 times in 15 seasons and 300 carries four times.

Rivera was with Turner at San Diego when Tomlinson and Darren Sproles were lead backs. Tomlinson had 339 carries in addition to 59 catches in 2001, his rookie season at San Diego, where Turner was offensive coordinator. He averaged 276 carries in his first three seasons after Turner returned as the head coach in 2007.

"I could see him doing some of those things with [McCaffrey],'' Rivera said.

McCaffrey welcomes the challenge. He has gone from a playing weight of 202 pounds last year to 208 with added muscle.

"I love to hear that,'' he said of an increased role. "Hopefully, it happens. Anytime coach tells you you're going to get the ball more you get a little excited about that.''

McCaffrey is excited about the Panthers in general after losing in the first round of the playoffs last season.

"We want to win a Super Bowl,'' McCafffrey said. "That's every team's goal, and that's what we have our eyes on.''